Don’t just salute veterans, rally with them
Here’s a surprise that the power elites really hate to see: Many members of the 1 percent are joining the “We are the 99 percent” movement in various Occupy Wall Street protests.
I don’t mean that corporate CEOs and hedge fund billionaires are suddenly in the streets to show solidarity with millions of Americans who’re fed up with the systemic inequality and corruption infesting our economic and political systems. No, no – those swells aren’t about to dirty their Guccis with any street action. Rather, I’m talking about another, extra-special 1 percent of our society – the soldiers who’ve been the “boots on the ground” in Washington’s long misguided and bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This Veterans Day, thousands of vets from America’s abused “war class” were not marching in little feel-good parades. Instead, they were rallying with the Occupy movement, expressing their anger at being used in two senseless wars that enriched corporate contractors while the troops lucky enough to come home alive can’t find decent jobs and are shorted on the health and education programs they desperately need.
In New York last week, more than 100 of our nation’s soldiers marched in uniform from the Vietnam Vets Plaza to Wall Street, where they stood in formation in front of the Stock Exchange. “Corporate profits on the rise,” they chanted, “soldiers have to bleed and die.” Far from offering the salutes they deserve (much less the help they’ve earned), the Powers That Be deployed a line of New York police to block these peaceful protesters from the financial manipulators inside and then deployed another line of police on horseback wielding nightsticks to threaten them.
This disgraceful show of force against those who’ve fought our wars exposes just how perverted and corrupt the power elites have become – and why all of us should support this democracy movement.
Here’s some free advice for America’s financial and political leaders who are eager to shut down the Occupy protests: If you want to woo the public, try to keep your riot-clad police from shooting an Iraqi war veteran in the face and brutally beating another with clubs – especially when the unprovoked assaults are being videoed, as recently happened in Oakland.
The increasing presence of war veterans in the Occupy protests makes it difficult for officialdom to claim that the movement is nothing but aimless, shiftless kids who pose a threat to decent society. Indeed, the real threat to “decent society” (by which the elite mean themselves and their plutocratic rule over our economy and politics) is their own disdainful treatment of America’s workaday majority.
After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked. Like millions of knocked down middle-classers and held-down poor people, a tidal wave of soldiers who’ve served three, five, seven or more tours in hellish war zones have been coming home to a jobless, low-wage, relentlessly grim economy.
The unemployment rate for vets is 12 percent, a third higher than the national rate – for young vets, it’s 20 percent, more than double the national figure. And some 50,000 more soldiers are to return from the Mideast wars by year’s end.
So, what’s the plan? What shall we do with them? After World War II, a more enlightened establishment created the GI Bill to absorb that surge of returning soldiers – but our “leaders” today have nothing approaching that enlightenment, nor even a plan to have a plan.
The penthouse swells can unleash their police to break up protests, but that only fuels the fury. Now they’re cracking down on veterans – people who know how to use guns. It’s time to deal with the growing crisis of joblessness and inequality in America. For more information, contact www.VeteransForCommonSense.org.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.